As the battle to land a major league soccer stadium rolls on, several county leaders are now offering a more taxpayer-friendly solution: just keep the team where it is.
The Real Salt Lake players have been temporarily competing in the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles stadium as leaders search for a more permanent and independent home.
But Salt Lake County Council member Jenny Wilson said Real Salt Lake should at least consider staying at the university field and avoid a $30 million bond to build a new stadium. Alternatives offered by Murray, Sandy and Salt Lake City would all require some type of taxpayer funding for the $60 million arena.
"What I don't want is another underutilized facility. That is a cost to me as a taxpayer at every level of taxation," Wilson said.
She met this past week with Real Salt Lake leaders and Mayor Peter Corroon, who said he's not sold yet on any plan for the stadium but does want the team to keep an open mind on staying put.
But both Corroon and Wilson admit there are several major obstacles to moving soccer into Rice-Eccles permanently. One of the biggest roadblocks is how to physically modify the stadium to accommodate both soccer and football.
The football team, for example, uses a turf surface, while the soccer team plays on natural grass. Swapping out the field may be possible, Wilson said, but difficult because the soccer game schedule overlaps into the beginning of the fall football practice season.
Another practical consideration, Wilson added, is that the sight lines for soccer are wider and require lower surrounding walls than football.
"If you really work through these issues one by one, some of them are bricks and mortar costly," Wilson said. "But some of them are how the university generates revenue versus an independent soccer stadium for Real."
But Real spokesman Trey Fitz-Gerald said Rice-Eccles cannot be a permanent home for the team.
"The business model is entirely wrong for us," he said.
The university, which owns the stadium, takes 90 percent of the concession sales and 27 percent of merchandise. Moreover, Fitz-Gerald said the locker rooms are antiquated and the soccer team wouldn't have control of marketing the stadium or offering sponsorship advertising there.
One of the biggest funding draws for a new stadium, for example, is selling the naming rights.
"We need a building where we are the landlord," Fitz-Gerald said.
As an incentive to stay at Rice-Eccles, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, is already suggesting a legislative measure to allow beer sales at soccer games. Team owner Dave Checketts hasn't decided about beer sales yet, Fitz-Gerald said, and the team wants to maintain a family-friendly environment at Real games.Comment on this story
"We are a family product," he said.
Mike Jerman, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said he hopes Real Salt Lake leaders at least look at the proposal to keep the team at the existing stadium because it is the only way to avoid asking taxpayers to foot the bill for the private stadium."The taxpayer has no obligation to fork over money so Real Salt Lake can control the experience," Jerman said. "If that's so critical, then Real Salt Lake should go it alone."
Contributing: Brady Snyder E-mail: email@example.com